Posts tagged fat toaster

Evaluating ethical lambing practices

Tail docking and castrating of ram lambs… is it ethical? Is it necessary?

Last year we decided to embark on an experiment in ethics and best practices. We decided that we would leave all lambs intact, which means that we did not castrate any of the boys, nor did we dock (cut off) tails.

lamb photo for webOne of the primitive traits of Jacob Sheep is their ability to still fully articulate their tails. Common modern farming technique requires the docking of tails, as lore suggests that many modern commercial breeds of sheep no longer have the ability to articulate their tails sufficiently to move it out of the way of feces and urine (which can lead to disease and infection). This is certainly not the case with Jacob Sheep, and after doing some investigating, we have arrived at the conclusion that it is unnecessary.

Removing appendages, such as the tail,  for “looks only” is not ethical care in our opinion. One of the reasons we began to question this practice in the first place was because we lost a lamb to anaphylactic shock after giving her the requisite anti-tetanus injection that is needed to keep them from getting tetanus in their tail when you band them. We watched a perfectly healthy lamb die within minutes in horrible agony and convulsions due to a shot we had given her so that we could perform an unnecessary procedure on her. Was this typical? Obviously, no. Does it happen? Yes. In fact, that same year another breeder friend of ours had a similar experience in two of his lambs.

In 2013 we raised all of our lambs without incident with tails fully intact. They thrived and we did not have any increased incidents of fly strike, infections, or otherwise. They were able to articulate their tails as needed for their bodily functions, and the ewes bred without any trouble. Breeders in some areas of the country have been leaving tails intact for quite some time, so this is not a new idea. We are simply reinforcing the idea that docking is purely an aesthetic choice, and here at Fat Toaster Farm we aren’t in the business of chopping off animal appendages in order to gain style points.

As for castrating, we have not castrated ram lambs since we began our farm in 2009, and the meat lambs taste mild and indistinguishable. As foodies the quality and flavor of our food is very important. We eat the sheep we raise, and so we want the best tasting meat. Castration can be extremely painful for the lamb (if you see them writhing in pain, you realize that yes, they do feel it — there is no way to explain that away and remain honest with yourself). Castration can also open an opportunity for infection, fly strike (trust me, you don’t want to mess with this), increased care, and sometimes death due to aforementioned complications. Again, if there is no practical gain, there is no reason to perform unnecessary surgical processes. Less work for us, less pain for the lambs, and the meat is fine both ways. Win/win.

Overall we encourage breeders to consider the implications of our findings. For one, it is significantly less work for the shepherd when you don’t need to catch every single lamb yet another time to band their tails or castrate. It is one or two less shots that you must catch them to give (and less risk of anaphylaxis). Certainly it is best for the critters this way also, as they endure less pain, enjoy a higher quality of life, and you don’t have to listen to their cries of pain. Again, win/win.

Happy lambing!

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Back in Spring, Lambs were born!

I know it is the middle of August, and clearly I’m behind (as usual) in my blogging. I thought you might be interested in our lambs from this spring.

Our Jacob sheep ewes all twinned this year, and in addition we obtained a Shetland ewe with young ram lamb at the side… so in total, we had 7 lambs on the farm. All three of our Jacob ewes lambed when we were away, and without incident. They are wonderful mothers, and their lambs are now happy and healthy. My only complaint? Of the six lambs born here this year, five were pesky boys.

Cecilia was the first to lamb this year on 4/3/10. She had two very healthy 4 horn rams, Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin, Hobbes, and Cecilia
Zach and Cecilia's CalvinTop photo – Calvin, Hobbes, and Cecilia

Bottom photo - Zach and Calvin

Baby was the second to lamb with a ram (Bocelli “Bo”, 2 horn) and a ewe (Andrea, 4 horn) on 4/8/10

Baby and her lambs, Andrea (top photo) and Bocelli (bottom front)

Baby and her lambs, Andrea (top photo) and Bocelli (bottom front)

And Finally, Roberta came in third a fitting three weeks later with two playful ram lambs on 4/29/10. We dubbed them Conan (2 horn) and O’brien (4 horn)

Roberta with Conan and O'brien

Roberta with Conan and O'brien

And finally, Jasmine, our black Shetland ewe and her white lamb ram. We named him Jasmine’s Aladdin, but his nickname is “little ramb lamb” forevermore. He is now a wether who will live a long life on our farm as a fiber animal. He is a big fuzzy puppy dog of a sheep, and the highlight of anyone’s visit to our farm.
"Little Ram Lamb" Aladdin

"Little Ram Lamb" Aladdin

Of course, it is August as I write this, so all of the lambs have grown significantly.  Many updated photos can be found on the “For Sale” page!
Zach with "Little Lamb Ram" in August, 2010

Zach with "Little Ram Lamb" in August, 2010

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Spring sheep shearing 2010

Our saga began on Friday night as we picked up a friend’s pickup truck complete with a rack/cage in the bed perfectly suited for sheep transportation. It had been raining all week, so we had kept our sheep in the barn for several days to stay dry. My dad arrived at the farm just in time to help me load my three Jacob ewes in the truck. We backed the truck into my barn to keep the ladies dry overnight.

8am rolled around very quickly, and we gingerly drove the sheep over to Hillside Jacobs in Sparta, Michigan where we were going to shear my sheep, Gary’s sheep (Hillside), and one of Gary’s brother’s flock of Columbia sheep.

Setup was relatively simple. The professional shearer needed a 6′ x 6′ footprint, and myself and a few other guys worked to keep the sheep flowing around him. On one side, one of Gary’s brothers helped get the unshorn sheep from the paddock. The shearer took about 4 minutes per sheep, and when done, I grabbed the freshly shorn sheep, brought it over to get a quick vaccination shot (tetanus and a few others), and then returned her to the paddock.

Click here to see a video of my ewe Cecelia getting sheared

Once the fleece was off the sheep, it was carried over to a skirting table where two ladies (Gary’s wife and sister) worked hard to remove the bad or soiled wool and categorize the wool quality. The wool was bagged in individually marked bags so that hand-spinners could know what sheep their wool came from. Wool from the stomach area as well as the rear is usually discarded. Jacob wool is highly prized by hand-spinners for its natural two-tone color and generally good quality.

The shearer worked from around 9am until nearly 5pm without an extended break. Many spectators joined the fun over the course of the day. The Columbia sheep, over 200 pounds, were certainly a huge task when compared to the Jacobs or Shetlands that Gary and I had. It was a busy day, but filled with great learning experiences.

A late lunch was had by those remaining, and we drove our newly naked ladies home to their warm barn.

Lambs are soon to be on the way!

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Finding and deciding on animals…

Lindsay and I spent a fair amount of time deliberating on what animals should populate our farm. Here is a short list of the animals we’ve considered (in order of size)

chickens
guineas
rabbits
ducks (Indian Runner Ducks)
peacocks
sheep (Jacob Sheep)
goats (many varying breeds, for milk and meat)
llamas
alpacas
cattle (Highland Cattle and others for milk/meat)
bison
donkeys (protect sheep)
horses (draft… mostly Belgian)

For now we’ve decided on chickens (starting in spring ’10), Indian Runner ducks (starting in spring ’10), Jacob sheep, and Highland cattle.

To read all about the qualities of the Jacob sheep and Highland cattle which brought us around to getting then, simply read through their breed information pages. In the most basic sense, in both cases, they were hardy low maintenance animals that calved/lambed easily with little or no assistance. Both were ancient breeds with a “threatened” or near threatened status (number of their breed in the world is low) yet unique and worth preserving.

Here are some various reasons that we haven’t yet, or may never have some of the animals I listed…

  • guineas (still on the “someday” list… possibly Spring ’10)
  • rabbits (someday soon)
  • peacocks (still on the “someday”” list)
  • goats – for now, on hold. Goats can breed with sheep and cause pregnancy that does not carry to term. Goats are also more mischievous, and frankly, I’m not convinced I want the hassle…
  • llamas/alpacas -they spit, they require shearing like sheep (but they are three times the size… so that becomes a logistical issue), and they are generally mischievous. Lindsay loves these, so hope stands for them despite my objections.
  • bison – extremely large and wild. Bison are amazing creatures… beautiful, majestic, truly american… but at the same time, they are totally wild, require specialized fencing, and they are not domesticated… therefore dangerous. Not exactly a “starter farm” animal.
  • donkeys – still a possibility for the future… I love how they protect sheep.
  • horses – my grandfather always had Belgian draft horses, and they were amazing gentle beasts. I hope that someday I can have some of these amazing horses, but for now, more learning must be pursued and more experience must be acquired.

Obviously, more thought has gone into these decisions than just a few sentences can describe, however, these were our primary reasons along with some hope for the future in some cases.

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